One of the ways I believe you can assess whether or not your church is maturing spiritually is this - the standards for leadership keep getting tougher as time passes. You keep turning up the heat every year, requiring a deeper level of commitment to Christ and spiritual growth.
For instance, when Saddleback first began, our only requirement for serving in childrens Sunday school was that you had to be a warm body. Over the years, weve tightened the requirements considerably! We have done the same thing with our lay pastors, our musicians, and other ministry positions.
Every time you raise the standards for leadership, you bring everyone else in the church along a little bit. A rising tide raises all the boats in the harbor.
Focus on raising the commitment of your leadership, not those who are the least committed in the crowd, nor even the semi-committed in your congregation. Whenever you raise the standard of commitment for those who are in the most visible positions of leadership, it raises the expectations among everyone else.
You must ask people for commitment
If you don't ask people for commitment, you won't get it. You have not because you ask not. Its amazing to me that many community organizations require more from participants than the local churches do. If youve ever been a Little League parent you know that when your child signed up to play, you were required to make a major commitment in terms of providing refreshments, transportation, trophies, and victory parties in addition to attendance. There was nothing voluntary about it! It was required if you wanted to participate.
One of the most helpful things a church can do for people is to help them clarify what commitments they ought to make and what commitments they ought to decline. The reason we have so many weak Christians today is because they are half-committed to two dozen causes rather than being totally committed to the things that really matter.
For many people the barrier to spiritual growth is not lack of commitment, but over-commitment to the wrong things. Jesus pointed this out in the Parable of the Sower: The seed that fell among thorns stands for those who hear, but as they go on their way they are choked by life's worries, riches and pleasures, and they do not mature. (Luke 8:14) People must be taught to make wise commitments.
Ask confidently for a big commitment
Study how Jesus asked for commitment. He was always clear and confident when he asked for it. He was not at all reluctant to ask grown men and women to drop everything and follow him. This is an interesting phenomena: The greater the commitment you request, the greater response you will get.
People want to be committed to something that gives significance to their lives. They respond to responsibilities that gives life meaning. They are attracted by a challenging vision. They want to be a part of something worthwhile.
On the other hand, people are unmoved by weak appeals and pitiful requests for help. Jesus knew this when he said in Luke 14:33, "Any of you who does not give up everything he has cannot be my disciple." His challenge was total commitment.
Some pastors are afraid to ask for a big commitment, fearing that they will drive people away. But people do not resent being asked for a big commitment if there is a great purpose behind it. People respond to passionate vision, not need.
Thats why most stewardship campaigns dont work: they focus on the needs of the church rather than the vision of the church. If people were really motivated by organizational needs, then every time a need was presented it would immediately be met.
Be specific in asking for commitment
Another key of developing commitment is being specific. Tell people exactly what is expected of them. At Saddleback we ask people to commit to Christ, then get baptized, become a member, develop the habits for maturity, minister, and fulfill their life mission.
We have developed four covenants that spell out exactly what each of these commitments include:
A Membership Covenant;
A Maturity Covenant;
A Ministry Covenant; and
A Missions Covenant.
Each one is very specific about what is expected and required at that level of commitment. Instead of saying, "Be committed to Christ," explain specifically what that involves.
Explain the benefits of commitment
Another key to developing commitment in people is to identify the benefits of it. God does this. So many of the commands in Scripture have promises attached to them. I once did a study of the promises attached to Gods commands to be generous. We always end up being blessed whenever were obedient.
Explain the personal benefits, the family benefits, the benefits to the Body of Christ and society in general, and the eternal benefits of committing to spiritual growth. People really do have an innate desire to learn, to grow, and to improve.
But sometimes you must awaken that desire by stating your learning goals and growth objectives in terms of the value and benefit. At Saddleback Church, we do this at the beginning of each C.L.A.S.S. 101, 201, 301, and 401. We say, Heres what this class will do for you. We also clearly explain the benefits of committing to each of the four covenants.
Build on commitment rather than toward commitment
Even though you tell people where you are taking them (by challenging them with a big commitment) you start with whatever commitment they are able to give. Begin with an initial commitment regardless of how weak it may seem.
We challenge people to make a commitment and then grow into it. Its like choosing to become a parent. Very few couples feel competent to parent before they have their first child. But somehow - after the decision is made and a baby is born - the couple grows into their parenting role.
It is also OK to break big commitments into smaller steps and lead people gradually along. Thats the idea behind our Life Development Process (the baseball diamond).
Let people take baby steps!
Until next time,
Rick Warren is the founding pastor of Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, Calif., one of America's largest and best-known churches. In addition, Rick is author of the New York Times bestseller The Purpose-Driven Life and The Purpose-Driven Church, which was named one of the 100 Christian books that changed the 20th Century. He is also founder of Pastors.com, a global Internet community for ministers. Copyright 2005 Pastors.com, Inc. Used with permission. All rights reserved.
Adapted from Rick Warren's Ministry ToolBox, a free weekly e-newsletter for pastors and church leaders, available at Pastors.com.